There’s just something different about train travel and the kinds of experiences they open up to you when you sit back, relax and let things happen around you. Although it takes longer to reach your destination compared to flying, consider the positives: you can get up and walk around (or visit the dining car as often) as you like, the seats in the coach reclines and is typically 23.5 inches wide with a whopping 39 inches of legroom, and there’s no pre-boarding security check, so you don’t have to arrive two or three hours in advance. You are also allowed to bring two personal items (limited to 25 pounds each) and two carry-on bags per person (limited to 50 pounds each), while luggage larger than the size of hand luggage (limited to 50 pounds each ) can be checked — free of charge — at least 30 minutes before departure, if this is an option at your station. With less carbon emissions, it’s better for the environment than flying, and did I mention there’s free Wi-Fi?
If you were looking for a sign to give train travel a try, this is the one. While still a great deal at full price, through March 29, 2022, you can save $100 on Amtrak’s USA Rail Pass, allowing you to book 10 segments (rides) over a 30-day period, whether you plan to use it for an epic cross-country adventure or a few long weekends closer to home. Here are some things to consider if you’re considering getting started.
How it works
For starters, the USA Rail Pass is only valid for coach travel and you have 120 days after purchasing it to start using it. Once activated, you’ll need to book and travel all 10 segments within 30 days, so plan your routes and book seats in advance, then put your travel plan into action to make sure you can do it all within that time frame.
If something happens and you won’t be able to use it before your first departure, the pass is fully refundable as long as you are still within the 120-day validity period and no travel has yet taken place. If you have booked a segment but have not taken it yet, the pass is still refundable up to 48 hours before departure; it’s a 25% cancellation fee to cancel it within 48 hours.
The fine print
As the rail pass is intended for use in coach class, you will not be able to upgrade to larger Business Class or First Class seats or private rooms. It is also not valid for service on the Acela route, Auto Train between Virginia and Florida, Canadian stops along the Maple Leaf Line, or Thruway Bus Service (7000–7999) .
Pay attention to the types of fares you are trying to book, as the pass will only work on Saver and Value fares, not flexible fares. If you plan to use it to make five round trips, a regular multi-ride pass might be a better idea, as the USA Rail Pass limits travel to two round trips or four one-way trips, between a pair stations as well as all stations listed on that particular route.
Note that you are only allowed to make changes to a segment or cancel it up until your departure time. If you miss a train, for example, that segment will expire, so you’ll need to call Amtrak customer service or speak to an agent at the station to see if you can rebook it. Sometimes rides can be booked without you losing a segment. so it’s always worth a try.
Make every segment count
The hardest part for me is trying to narrow down the routes I want to take and then figuring out which towns I want to hop off and visit as each counts as a segment. For example, the Sunset Limited starts in New Orleans and stops in San Antonio, Tucson, Phoenix before ending in Los Angeles. If you were to go through the 46 hours and 35 minutes from end to end, that would count as one segment. If you were to stop in every town along the way, it would count as four out of your precious 10s, so you really have to be picky about where you go.
Do a quick search for your ideal route on the Amtrak website or app before you book to determine if the ride you’re thinking of is actually one segment or split into two or three. the train counts as one segment. If it says “live”, you are watching a segment. In a quick search for trains from New York to Chicago, for example, you’ll find direct service options as well as two- and three-segment trips with stops in Washington, DC or Pittsburgh and Toledo. So choose the route that suits you. best suits your travel needs.
Embrace slow travel
Between how the rail pass works and the layout of Amtrak’s rail service, the opportunity for some truly epic train rides certainly exists. The seats are quite comfortable and there’s plenty of legroom, so it should be pretty easy to pass the time, especially with all the view out the window. Take advantage of on-board Wi-Fi or use your train journey to disconnect and relax, wander around the different cars, chat with the people around you, and write or photograph your trip. For overnight segments, pack a travel pillow, blanket, earplugs, and eye mask. Alternatively, keep an open mind and adopt the slower pace as your train passes through some of the most beautiful scenery in the country.